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Animal Assisted Therapy and the Benefits for Seniors with Dementia: Part Two

Animal Assisted Therapy and the Benefits for Seniors with Dementia: Part Two

As we began to discuss last month, Animal Assisted Therapy or AAT is defined as a therapeutic intervention that incorporates animals such as dogs, cats, horses, birds, etc. into the treatment plans for senior citizens. Research suggests that AAT can positively impact the quality of life in the elderly, specifically those living alone, fighting depression, or those in assisted living facilities. In memory care in particular, animals can have a HUGE impact! We see the following benefits every day at Iris Memory Care. 

Increase Positive Emotions and Decrease Negative Ones
     The emotional benefits of Animal Assisted Therapy are well documented and established. AAT can increase the feelings of bonding and security while decreasing depression, stress, and anxiety. Interacting with animals can be a positive distraction in alleviating the seniors’ worries and discomforts.

Increase Affection and Decrease Loneliness
While these benefits may go hand in hand with the point above, it is important to recognize that anxiety and feeling lonely may be two completely different emotions. Senior and animal interaction does have the opportunity to increase emotional connectedness and decrease feelings of isolation. Many seniors who are struggling with dementia may struggle with feelings of loneliness. Simple interactions with animals such as petting the dog or cat, feeding the birds or fish, etc. can often bring a smile and a certain joy to the senior’s life.

Decrease in Negative Behaviors
     Many times with Dementia, seniors have a hard time navigating negative feelings and emotions such as frustration, anger, guilt and so on. When struggling with these emotions it can be difficult for the senior to process these and then communicate or treat others around them accordingly. Seniors who struggle with communication to begin with or perhaps have lost their ability to form words due to late-stage dementia may communicate with behaviors such as hand gestures, hitting something to draw attention, or yelling loudly in frustration. AAT has proved to help in decreasing these behaviors and giving seniors a healthy outlet for letting their negative emotions go.

Increased Locus of Control
     Locus of Control is defined as having control over one’s life and environment. With a well-trained or well-behaved animal. ATT has proven to increase the feeling that one’s sense of locus of control and reduce feelings of powerlessness or helplessness. This can be helped by offering the choice to brush or pet the animal, offering to walk around the block or play with them in the room. Another added benefit can be the act of feeding the animal which can give seniors a sense of responsibility and relevance.

     While it may seem daunting entering AAT into the life of your senior, it may be easier than you think. You can always bring the seniors’ own pet back into their lives, assuring their health and shots are up to date. This will bring a very strong sense of joy and reminiscence for them. You also can reach out to local Kennel Clubs or businesses that offer dog training programs. You also can reach out to individuals who may be doing volunteer work with local assisted livings and memory cares in your area. Perhaps posting in local therapy pet groups, reaching out to petting zoos, etc. may also be the answer to getting AAT involved in your senior’s life.